At midnight Thursday when the temperatures were dipping, volunteers from around Texoma were venturing forth in three counties to count the homeless people who were also braving the cold night air.
Stephanie Chandler, president of the Texoma Homeless Coalition, which works in Grayson, Fannin and Cooke counties, said the count is geared at getting funds to get people off the streets.
“To qualify for any state or federal homeless funding you have to have three things,” Chandler said.
She said the first is to establish a homeless coalition that meets four times a year. The second is to have a steering committee for the annual point-in-time count and the third is to actually conduct a point-in-time count. The coalition has a 24-hour period to conduct the count for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness says that during the counts, communities are required to “identify whether a person is an individual, a member of a family unit, or an unaccompanied youth under the age of 18. In addition, communities must identify if a person is chronically homeless, indicating long-time or repeated homelessness and the presence of a disability.”
“It’s the only the way you’re eligible (for those funds),” Chandler said. “So we have left all of that money on the table.”
Chandler said that money has either gone back to the federal government or another Texas area has received it.
She said there isn’t really a way to tell how much funding is being missed without the count, however, Dallas County got $15 million and the federal government gave Texas $1.3 billion for homeless solutions.
The problem with none of that money coming to the Texoma region, Chandler said, is there are homeless people here that could benefit from the services those funds could help to provide.
“What it does is open all of our current shelters up to receive that funding,” she said. “Because right now they can’t get it.”
Chandler said the money could be used to buy food, and education, and to pay therapy and mental health care for the homeless population in the Texoma area.
Who are the homeless?
Chandler said the area’s homeless are not who many might think. There are a few who stand out on the street corners and panhandle for money, but those people are a very small percentage of the homeless population in this area, Chandler said.
She said the local homeless population are working moms and dads with children. They live in their cars and in tents and anywhere they can stay together as a family. Some of them cluster in tiny communities for safety. In many ways, they are just like everyone else, except for whatever reason, they lost their homes. Sometimes those losses are due to a single catastrophic event and sometimes it is a series of events. Either way, a lack of support, for whatever reason, keeps them from being able to start that steep climb back to being in a home.
There are homeless veterans, but there are also homeless college students. There are homeless young people and there are homeless older people.
The thing that drove them to homelessness varies, Chandler said.
Donna, a woman who is staying at the Grayson County Shelter in Denison and asked that her last name not be used, said the road back is hard. She and her husband have been homeless for four months and they don’t know how they will be able to get back on their feet.
“There is no affordable housing,” she said and explained the wait list to get on subsidized housing is long.
The certified nurses aid also said she can’t get a job because she doesn’t have a vehicle.
“TAPS isn’t running so there’s no way to get back and forth,” she said, adding her husband is waiting to hear from his attorney about a disability claim.
Chandler said a lack of affordable housing is one of the things that keeps a lot of people from being able to climb out of homelessness. A lack of other resources is another. The National Alliance to End Homelessness said that when people double up in housing — living with another family in a single family house or apartment — that is often seen as a precursor to homelessness.
Homelessness happens, Chandler said, when that solution fails or is not an option in the first place. Many people, she said, don’t have family or friends who can or will help. She said to avoid potential homelessness, everyone should have someone who can be counted upon to loan them $5, give them a ride if they need it or allow them to sleep on their couch or spare room.
Chandler said while the area does lack in resources for homeless people, it does not lack in caring people who want to help. She said she was overwhelmed by the response she has had from people and local organizations who wanted to help with the count. In some instances, Chandler said, companies were calling her daily to ask what they could do to help out.
The Veteran’s Administration sent a team to help and they were able to help any veteran who stepped forward whether they needed housing, physical or mental health care or had other needs.
Chandler said the area planned an after party of sorts to allow those who had volunteered a place to decompress and give all of the students who had volunteered a place to be a part of the event.
“I couldn’t send them out to do the count,” Chandler said.
But she also couldn’t turn her back on their desire to help either. She said the young people put together bags of items donated and made peanut butter sandwiches.